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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘People for Puget Sound’

People for Puget Sound disbands after 21 years

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

UPDATE, Sept. 13

For some different perspectives on the demise of People for Puget Sound:

Reporter Lynda Mapes interviews Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation and others in her story in the Seattle Times.

Mike Sato, longtime communications director for People for Puget Sound, offers his viewpoint in his blog “Salish Sea Communications.”

Alf Hanna recalls the good work done by People for Puget Sound in his blog “Olympic Peninsula Environmental News” and includes this terse observation:

“Tom Bancroft’s comments to the press about not knowing the financial status of the organization are simply not accurate. There is nothing more needing saying than that I was there, on the board when he was hired. He knew full well what the situation was. He’s a smart guy, who knows how to read a financial report. But this isn’t about Tom. It’s about the Salish Sea.”

—–

When a well-established institution like People for Puget Sound suddenly disbands, it’s like a death in the family for supporters and colleagues. Questions about what happened hang in the air. Explanations never seem adequate.

How could People for Puget Sound manage to survive and wield great influence for 20 years only to go under a year and a half after a new executive director takes control?

Kathy Fletcher, who helped form the organization in 1991 and served as its executive director for 20 years, seemed happy to pass the reins of the organization to Tom Bancroft, who had worked at the top levels of the National Audobon Society, Wilderness Society and other groups.

Here’s what Kathy said at her retirement party:

“Beyond what you can read about Tom on paper, I can now say, after working with him for a little over two months, he is the right human being to lead People for Puget Sound. His judgment is excellent; his instincts are great; and his people skills are terrific. People for Puget Sound is in good hands.”

Tom Bancroft

I’ll come back to what Kathy told me today, but Tom’s take on the situation is that People for Puget Sound grew faster than revenues allowed from about 2007 to 2011 (before his arrival), and he was unable to make enough adjustments to keep things going, no matter how hard he tried.

“This was not expected when I took the job,” Tom told me. “I discovered soon after I got here that the organization was larger than we could afford.”

He says he took over as director in April of 2011 and within a month began to eye the balance sheet and worry about the future.

“I said, ‘My god, what have I gotten into,” he noted.

The organization had taken on a $300,000 loan in 2010, using as collateral more than $500,000 in reserve funds.

“We had a lot of reserves, but we had to contract back down to what the revenues were,” he said.

Near the end of last year, six full-time and two part-time staffers were laid off from a total staff of about 25 people.

A fund drive last spring could have helped restore the organization to an even keel, but the effort failed to generate the level of donations required for success.

In May, another five full-time staffers were laid off. Others left on their own.

“It’s not that any one thing fell apart,” Tom said. “The economic reality affects all funding. Foundations are not having as much money as before. Individuals don’t have the money to give. It is a tough time right now…

“I got to a point where I still needed to do cuts, and cutting staff would not work, because we wouldn’t have enough people to run the programs. I was caught in a bind.

“I thought we could try to squeeze through this. But I would rather we protect the mission and keep it going than try to keep us alive (until nothing is left).”

With board approval, Tom used most of the remaining reserve funds to pay off the $300,000 loan. The remainder is going into a transition effort designed to move the programs to other environmental groups.

Kathy Fletcher

Kathy Fletcher said she worked hard through the transition period before her retirement in 2011 to make sure everything was in order and a new director was prepared.

“This is shocking and sad,” she told me, referring to the news that People for Puget Sound would come to an end. “I never would have imagined that this would have happened.”

Kathy said when she left the organization, there was plenty of money in the reserve fund to cover the $300,000 line of credit and more. The group had been dipping into the reserve fund for two or three years, she said, but that’s why the organization had amassed such a large fund to begin with. The challenge, as it has always been, was for the organization to raise donations, she said.

As with any nonprofit group, it takes constant attention to keep the budget in balance, she said.

“Looking at how the economy has not bounced back, I can see that some cutbacks may have been necessary. It requires constant effort, sometimes a huge amount of effort.

“The fact that we borrowed against our line of credit was daunting to the new director, but that was a challenge,” she told me. “It meant a fund-raising burden, but it should not have resulted in closing things down.”

Still, Kathy acknowledges that she has been completely gone from the organization and does not wish to place blame now.

Mike Sato, one of the founders of People for Puget Sound and a public communications expert, lost his job during last year’s layoffs. Mike says the executive staff had worked for two years to prepare for Kathy Fletcher’s departure and the transition to new leadership.

“Some people will think that the charisma of the organization went away with Kathy,” he said. “But we made a real effort to establish the brand ‘People for Puget Sound.’ We were trying to say, ‘We are 20 years old and moving ahead.’”

During the 20 years of the group’s existence, Sato recalls other times when finances were tough.

“At times, some of us deferred salary to keep the organization going. We did creative financing, but we always pulled through, because we looked at this as a real cause rather than a balance sheet.

“Would another group of people have done things differently?” he wondered. “We did it because it was a cause, and you do whatever needs to be done. It is not financially impossible.”

Tom Bancroft said he is proud of the advocacy and policy accomplishments by the organization over the past year. He says he and his staff worked hard on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, on the Department of Ecology’s new statewide stormwater permit and on agreements dealing with combined sewer overflows in King County and the city of Seattle.

“If we can save the mission and keep the mission strong, I will feel good about walking away from here,” Tom told me. “Puget Sound is a fantastic body of water, and it’s critical to the well being of the people who live here.”

To save the “mission” of People for Puget Sound, Bancroft wants to shift policy, advocacy and education programs to the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental group that he sees as an ongoing “partner” in the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound.

He expects WEC to sharpen its focus on Puget Sound and even keep the name “People for Puget Sound” as a branch of the organization.

Meanwhile, restoration programs — largely funded with government grants — could be turned over to EarthCorps, another longterm partner involved in restoration projects.

Where grants are involved, an agency sponsor will likely need to approve the transfer of funds to any group taking over funded programs.

Mike Sato said it will take a firm commitment from other environmental organizations to keep up the watch dog functions performed by People for Puget Sound — particularly when it comes to oil-spill and vessel-related issues.

“Agencies will move forward,” Mike said, “but only as much as there is a constituency saying these things must be done.

“We’ve been wanting the (Puget Sound) Partnership to get its act together. We wanted to see the Partnership succeed. And now they seem to be getting it together, and somebody needs to be a watch dog so that things don’t fall by the wayside.

“It looks like the Partnership will be OK,” Sato added. “I’m just sorry that People for Puget Sound will not be around.”

Bancroft expects the organization will disband by the end of this month.


Environmental groups will boycott Navy meetings

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

A dozen environmental groups say they will boycott the nine “scoping meetings” the Navy is holding to kick off a new round of studies regarding testing and training activities in the Northwest.

In a letter dated March 13 (PDF 16 kb), the groups said the format of the meetings is not designed to encourage public discussion or even allow public comment. In addition, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have ignored ongoing calls for the Navy to better protect marine wildlife and the environment along the Washington Coast and other biologically important areas, they say.

Navy's Northwest testing and training ranges. Click to enlarge.
Map by U.S. Navy

The Navy will seek a new permit from NOAA for the incidental harassment of marine mammals during testing and training activities. Most of the activities are identical to what is taking place now, but some new activities are added — including the testing of sonar from ships docked at piers.

Between now and 2015, Navy officials will describe and study the effects of various activities on marine life and update existing mitigation with new research findings. See my initial story in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 27, and a related post in Water Ways, March 6. Also, you may review the official notice in the Federal Register.

Back to the letter, which states in part:

“As you know, the scoping process is the best time to identify issues and provide recommendations to agencies on what should be analyzed in the EIS. However, a process developed for activities with controversial impacts, like those at issue here, that does not provide opportunity for the public to testify or speak to a broader audience, or to hear answers to questions raised by others, and that fails to engage major population centers is not designed to help citizens and organizations effectively participate in agencies’ environmental reviews.”

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New study refines Puget Sound pollution issues

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

A third-generation study of toxic pollution in Puget Sound claims to be the best estimate so far of total amounts of toxics entering Puget Sound each year.

New report on toxics in Puget Sound (PDF 7.3 mb). Click to download.
Washington Department of Ecology

As Craig Welch of the Seattle Times points out in a story today, it’s a big exaggeration to think that Puget Sound is suffering through enough drips and drabs of oil — largely from vehicles — to equal an Exxon Valdez spill every two years.

Craig is right to point out how previous studies overestimated the amount of several toxics. After all, politicians having been tossing around the dramatic Exxon Valdez analogy when it serves their purposes. Still, the total amount of oil or any other pollutant in Puget Sound is not really a good measure of the problems we face.

If you want to understand pollution in a waterway, it’s better to measure the concentration of the pollutant, see where that level falls on a toxicity scale, then consider how fish and other organisms are exposed to the pollution.

The new study for the Department of Ecology, titled “Toxics in Surface Runoff to Puget Sound,” analyzed 21 chemicals or groups of chemicals in 16 streams in the Puyallup and Snohomish river watersheds. The watersheds contain all different land types — commercial-industrial, residential, agricultural, forest, fields and other undeveloped lands. The idea is that researchers could extrapolate from these land types to represent all of Puget Sound. But such an extrapolation still requires a number of assumptions, which can throw off the estimates by wide margins.

At least we can say the latest study involved actual water-quality sampling. Previous estimates — including those that produced the Exxon Valdez analogy — were based on measurements of stormwater in other parts of the country.

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Amusing Monday: Salmon says … smile!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Coming out of the recent legislative session, People for Puget Sound wanted to create some kind of video for Earth Day. But the group didn’t have much money for production costs. So staffers approached the folks at Visual Media Group in Seattle.

“We get really serious about a whole lot of stuff,” said Mike Sato, communications director for People for Puget Sound. Everyone began thinking that it might be time to offer something humorous, and folks at the VMG were willing to help.

“They came back with a script, saying it is going to be light, but it is going to have a point,” Sato said.

After a few minor script changes, everyone was on board, and producer Rich Rudy began working on casting, costumes and locations.

If you haven’t viewed the video, called “Salmon Says, Fight Pollution,” please do so now (by clicking on the video player below). Then read on for more information about how this video came about.

It was Cheryl Isen, a marketing and public relations expert with connections to both People for Puget Sound and Visual Media Group, who suggested the two groups work together.

“We were all too happy to throw in our time and do this PSA (public service announcement) for them,” Rich Rudy of VMG told me. “We are trying to give back to the community, and we had free rein over the creatives.”

The actor in the salmon suit is Dartanion London, a standup improv comedian who works in the U. District while attending college. He also donated his time to the cause.

“We sent the script to him with the basic idea. We call it an emotional map that he was going to improvise around,” Rich said.

The production was more complicated than you might think. Every location was approved with officials, from the Westlake Fountain to the Pike Place Market to a pier owned by the Port of Seattle. Bystanders in the video are volunteers who offered their services, mostly folks associated with People for Puget Sound.

A costume was designed, put together and scheduled for delivery on the day of the shoot. Then the seamstress called Rudy in tears. The fish suit was gone. She had placed it in the backseat of her Mercedes, and the car was stolen.

In a kind of gallows humor, the joke became: “If anyone sees a guy in a fish suit driving around in a Mercedes, be sure to call 911,” according to Rich Rudy.

It turns out that another environmental group, Save Our Wild Salmon, had a suit for its mascot, Buster — the wild Snake River sockeye. In fact, there were extra suits available, and so the shoot was back on.

Some of the greatest moments occurred when the human-sized fish became engaged in dialog with a salmon at Pike Place Market. Unfortunately, one of the street musicians had been watching and began singing as soon as the shooting started. The music drowned out the dialog and most could not be used.

There is some talk about going back for another try at the fish market. A video from the numerous funny outtakes also is in the works, organizers say.

Of course, everyone hopes the PSA will appear on one of the local television stations. But that will be up to the various PSA coordinators who select which pieces to run in the various time slots.


“State of the Sound” report falls short of expectations

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The first “State of the Sound” report issued by the Puget Sound Partnership was announced yesterday with practically no fanfare.

I recall that the Partnership’s predecessor group, the Puget Sound Action Team, used to make a big deal out of these ecosystem reports. Frankly, I had expected a major rollout, like that of the Puget Sound Action Agenda — until I read through the document and began to ask questions.

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, told me the report was a “hybrid version.” Before the next formal report is due in two years, he hopes to provide more meaningful ecosystem-condition reports through a Web site.

The Partnership’s Science Panel called the report a “transitional” document between descriptions of ecosystem conditions in past “State of the Sound” reports and a new “ecosystem-reporting framework” being developed for the Puget Sound Partnership.

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, said the document is not what the Legislature envisioned when it laid out reporting requirements for the Partnership. Without better indicators, benchmarks and long-term goals, nobody knows if the Partnership is on track to restore Puget Sound to a healthy condition by 2020, she said.

Fletcher has a unique perspective on this process. Besides heading an environmental organization, she serves on the Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board. She also was the first executive director of the original Puget Sound panel — called the Puget Sound Water Quality Authory (1983).

I won’t linger on this new report, as I expect more useful information to be forthcoming in the next few months. Read my story in today’s Kitsap Sun, or download the report from the Puget Sound Partnership.

If you download the report, you may wish to read about the Performance Management System being developed, which is described in some detail, as well as a description of funding issues. Those and a few other details are new additions to the “State of the Sound.”

Because the Partnership is relying heavily on its Science Panel to develop a system to measure changes in the ecosystem, I’ll highlight a few of the problems, which the panel describes in its section of the report:
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What would Puget Sound’s killer whales really want?

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Two hearings regarding proposed boating regulations to protect Puget Sound orcas from noise and disturbance have brought out a variety of opinions. Folks involved in the whale-watching industry showed up in large numbers, as did sport and commercial fishers.

Scott Veirs, who studies the acoustics of killer whales, blogged about last night’s meeting in Seattle:

“Overall, there were strong objections to the entire suite of alternatives — from the 200 yard viewing distance to the no-go zone. People for Puget Sound went on record saying that a no-go zone was a step too far. And Ken Balcomb (Center for Whale Research) voted for no action.

“I was left with a profound disappointment that so many felt so unfairly burdened by the proposed rules. If the people who most intimately and consistently share the southern resident’s habitat aren’t willing to make a sacrifice to preserve the basis of their livelihoods, how can we expect the public to act selflessly for our regional icons: the orca and the salmon?”

I thought the piece put together by reporter Mark Wright of KCPQ-TV (viewer above right) provided a nicely summarized and balanced perspective on the issue, though it did not examine the scientific issue.

To dig more deeply, take a loot at the extensive list of comments compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2007 when “potential vessel regulations” were being discussed. Information about the proposed rule — including questions and answers — can be found on the page “Regulations on Vessel Effects.”

A few odds and ends in recent days:
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Who will lead for Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Federal officials are planning to put some heavy muscle on persons responsible for polluting Chesapeake Bay.

It’s an approach that several environmental groups in the Puget Sound region would like to see here.

“If the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan works, a bay known for soft-touch oversight could become one of the most aggressively regulated bodies of water in the country,” writes David Fahrentold, a reporter for the Washington Post.

Federal agencies today released seven draft reports calling for increased accountability and expanded use of regulatory authorities that can address pollution control and other issues. See “Chesapeake Bay Executive Order.” Despite concerted efforts over the past 25 years, the health of Chesapeake Bay remains “exceptionally poor,” federal officials say.

“We need bold new leadership, collective accountability by all contributors to the Bay’s problems, and dramatic changes in policies using all the tools at hand if we are to fulfill President Obama’s goal for clean water throughout the region,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a news release (PDF 24 kb). “These reports bring us a step closer to achieving the vision we all share for the future of the Chesapeake Bay.”

The EPA has several programs that could force polluters to take action. Through the years, the agency has been reluctant to use its authority, preferring to gain voluntary compliance by producing studies that show how bad things are getting. The Chesapeake Bay Program, a multi-state, multi-jurisdiction organization, has been similarly criticized.

Last May, Fahrentold wrote a story for the Washington Post quoting Howard Ernst, a political science professor whose book “Chesapeake Bay Blues” served as a call to arms for Bay watchers.

Here’s Ernst’s key quote: “The question that’s before the bay program today . . . is whether or not they’re going to be an environmental implementation agency or they’re going to be a study-and-suggest agency. And the jury’s still out.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, has been observing Puget Sound up close for more years than she wants to count. And for years she has been worried about similar inaction. When Kathy read Ernst’s comment, she made this notation in her blog:

This sounds a lot like an estuary near here. With a comprehensive cleanup and management plan in place since December 1986, Puget Sound is still the object of almost endless discussion — by scientists who want to come up with a perfect model of the ecosystem’s complexity before saying for sure what we should do; by politicians who don’t want to be nailed for advocating the land use regulations or the money needed to do the job right; by polluters and developers who know that prolonging the conversation also postpones the day of reckoning.

We need actions that go directly to the bottom line of saving Puget Sound:

Scientists: The perfect is the enemy of the good. By the time you figure out exactly how Puget Sound is dying, it will be dead.

Politicians: You are our leaders. You know the Sound needs more than lip service and little bits of help here and there. Bold action is needed, and you’re the ones who can make it happen.

Polluters and developers: Our economy is inextricably linked to the quality of our environment. You and the Sound can both thrive, but only if you get green. Really green. ASAP.

The Puget Sound Partnership has put together an Action Agenda designed around the notion of getting people and agencies to commit themselves to doing the right thing for Puget Sound then holding their feet to the fire. In Puget Sound, the federal government is taking somewhat of a back seat to the new state-based organization.

Will the revised Chesapeake model work better than the one we’ve approved for Puget Sound? I can’t say, but you can be sure we’ll be watching both waterways.


Judge puts Maury Island gravel project on hold

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Environmental organizations were celebrating tonight after a federal judge blocked work on Glacier Northwest’s controversial gravel-mining operation on Maury Island.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that no more work can be done on a loading dock until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares a full-blown environmental impact statement. The Corps also must “consult” with other agencies about harm that the project could cause to threatened and endangered species.

Shortly after Martinez issued his ruling, I received an e-mailed statement from state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who oversees a state lease for the gravel-mining operation.

“Due to the ruling in federal court today, the lease NW Aggregates has with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is no longer in good standing,” Goldmark said.

“It is imperative that we protect Puget Sound. The judge recognized there are potential impacts from this project on threatened and endangered species, like orca and salmon. The ruling cites many of the same issues that we have raised in recent months.”

The court ruling, combined with Goldmark’s express position, creates a significant hurdle for Glacier Northwest to overcome.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Pete Stoltz, Glacier Northwest’s permit coordinator, told the Associated Press. “We participated in the entire process, provided all the information required.

“We’re hopeful that the process could happen expeditiously,” he said, adding that the company will cooperate fully with federal environmental reviews.

The case was brought by plaintiffs Preserve Our Islands, People for Puget Sound and Washington Environmental Council.

You may wish to read Martinez’s entire order (PDF 96 kb) for yourself, but I’ll try to summarize it here:
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Water management in California deemed critical to orcas

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Federal biologists are really stirring things up in Northern California. They have determined that the irrigation system in the vast Central Valley farm region jeopardizes the future of several species of fish as well as Puget Sound’s killer whales.

The killer whale angle is worth some discussion — but first the larger picture.

“What is at stake here is not just the survival of species but the health of entire ecosystems and the economies that depend on them,” Rod Mcinnis, southwest regional director for NOAA’s Fisheries Service said in a news release. “We are ready to work with our federal and state partners, farmers and residents to find solutions that benefit the economy, environment and Central Valley families.”

Changing the water system to meet the requirements of threatened and endangered species could reduce water supplies by 5 to 7 percent, significantly affecting farm production and drinking water supplies. Several proposed projects — valued at hundreds of millions of dollars — could help balance that out. To see the technical reports, go to NOAA’s Web site on the issue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger objected to the findings in a written statement:

“This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of millions of Californians and the health and security of the world’s eighth largest economy. The piling on of one federal court decision after another in a species-by-species approach is killing our economy and undermining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act. I will be asking for a meeting with Secretary Salazar and Secretary Locke to discuss our concerns with these biological opinions, and my Administration will be pursuing every possible avenue to reconcile the harmful effects of these decisions.”

Court action is almost certain.

Reporters Kelly Zito of the San Francisco Chronicle and Colin Sullivan of the New York Times’ “Greenwire” do a good job in fleshing out this story from the California perspective.

It’s interesting to see the federal biologists address the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales with respect to water use in California. These orcas frequent Puget Sound, but they are spending a great deal of their time along the West Coast down to Monterey Bay. The bottom line in the biological opinion is that salmon availability along the coast could be a key factor in whether the population is able to avoid extinction.

Environmental groups were quick to argue that if water operations in Northern California can raise the risk of extinction to intolerable levels, then surely the dams on the Columbia River ought to be a concern.

“The recent National Marine Fisheries Service conclusion linking destruction of salmon habitat to harm to killer whales is a breath of fresh air,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound in a statement. “Our killer whales are at critically low numbers, and NMFS has recognized that what we do to salmon in freshwater impacts our orcas in the ocean. But it doesn’t make sense to protect salmon for whales to eat in California while at the same time ignoring the effect of dams on fish in the whales’ backyard.”

The issue of what to do about the dams remains before a federal judge. The Obama administration is considering whether to continue with the Bush approach to leave the dams in place or revisit the issue.

“The fiction that the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have no effect on the food supply for orcas is one of many failings in the Columbia and Snake River biological opinion,” said Steve Mashuda of Earthjustice, which represents the groups in the case. “Our killer whales shouldn’t have to travel all the way to Monterey Bay to find a decent meal.”

To understand why the federal biologists consider water activities in California critical to the survival of the Southern Resident killer whales, I’ve pulled some comments from the Biological Opinion and Conference Opinion on the Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project (PDF 12.7mb):

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Killer whales leave South Sound before protest begins

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Glacier Northwest has begun work on the controversial pier that will eventually support its gravel-mining operation on Maury Island. See updated story by Leslie Brown in the Vashon Beachcomber.

Meanwhile, a protest demonstration got underway this morning near the construction site. Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound reported about 50 protesters as well as some 10 dinghies and kayaks at 8:30 a.m. this morning.

Yesterday, a contingent of 20 to 30 killer whales — apparently including members from all three Puget Sound pods — visited the South Sound area, not far from the Glacier site. I thought maybe they had come south to join the protest, but during the night they turned north and came up through Puget Sound.

If you recall, the orcas were cited among reasons to deny the construction activity in an aquatic reserve frequented by the whales in winter.

As of 11:30 a.m. today, the orcas were in Admiralty Inlet north of the Kitsap Peninsula, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who was among the widely scattered whales when I talked to him by phone.

See Orca Network for reports of whale travels. In case you’re not aware of it, anyone can sign up for e-mail reports of whale sightings, typically compiled at the end of each day.

By the way, People for Puget Sound has scheduled a “Bremerton Moonlight Beachwalk” Thursday in Bremerton and a “Starlight Beachwalk and Bonfire” Friday in Burien. Reservations are recommended for both events.


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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